The Manila Times - Mission impossible in Camarines Sur for Leni Robredo

By Yen Makbenta | The Manila Times

“Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is awfully hard to get it back in.”
– H. R. Haldeman

First word
HARRY Robbins Haldeman (better known as “H.R. Haldeman”) uttered this immortal and funny truism during the hearings before the “Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities of the United States Senate: Watergate and Related Activities” in 1973.
Haldeman is said to have uttered the words to presidential counsel and fellow Nixon staffer John Dean in reference to the Watergate scandal on April 8, 1973. The “put the toothpaste back in the tube” saying is now firmly associated with him, although it did appear earlier in the Sheboygan Press, on March 5, 1940, as “Have you ever tried squeezing the toothpaste back in the tube?”

Haldeman was a US political aide and businessman, best known for his service as White House chief of staff to President Richard Nixon and for his role in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the Watergate scandal. He was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and was imprisoned for 18 months for his crimes.

I suddenly thought of Haldeman and his toothpaste line, while I was reading about the goings-on and developments in the vice-presidential vote recount being conducted by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The linking of one to the other was irresistible.

Gag or sub judice order
The association consisted of simply this: The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has ordered the camps of Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos, Jr. to explain why they have disclosed “sensitive” information about the ongoing vote recount.

Marcos and Robredo were ordered to explain within 10 days from receipt of notice of the show-cause order why they should not be held in contempt for violating the gag order (also called sub judice order) on the vote recount.

The PET explained that it had released two resolutions dated February 13, 2018, and March 20, 2018, which instructed both parties to refrain from discussing the vote recount to the public.

“Despite these stern directives of the tribunal, several news reports have shown that the parties, their counsels and/or representatives, have nonetheless continued to disclose sensitive information regarding the revision process to the public, in clear violation of the aforementioned resolutions,” PET said.

The recount of votes for the election protest of Marcos against Robredo formally started on April 2, but soon word got out about what the recount process discovered once the ballot boxes were opened and the ballots were examined.

Marcos, in his protest, claims “massive cheating” caused his loss to Robredo in the 2016 vice-presidential race by some 260,000 votes.

The ballots, which were counted by machine, are being tallied again manually by the PET in the vote recount.

Marcos, on the first day of the vote recount, told reporters, upon questioning, that some of the ballots were wet and that there were allegedly missing audit logs.

Robredo’s camp, in turn, claimed that the wet ballots were normal and that the audit logs were not supposed to be in the ballot boxes.

Then the contention turned to the insufficient shading of the ovals assigned for the vice-presidential votes. Many of the votes credited to Robredo were not properly shaded as required by law, which demands at least 50 percent of the oval to be shaded for the vote to be credited.

The implications of the discoveries on just the first day of the recount were explosive. If the wet ballots, the absent audit logs and the insufficient shadings lead to the invalidation of votes for Robredo, the final result, when even just the votes in Camarines Sur are manually counted could wipe out her 263,000-vote lead in the national count.

PET is hopping mad on why the initial findings were disclosed to the public.

Squeezing fraud back into the tube
I will ask this question then: when PET issued the gag order, was it aspiring to squeeze back into the tube “the wet ballots”, “the absent audit logs” and “the insufficiently shaded ovals”?

I think this is a mission impossible like the one that Haldeman and Nixon’s men faced in the Watergate affair. No one can execute it, not even the Supreme Court.

While Marcos and Robredo and their respective lawyers can be forced to stop talking, the public and the media cannot be stopped from thinking the worst.

The wet ballots, the absent audit logs, the insufficiently shaded ballots, and then the votes for Robredo that exceeded even the number of voters in the precinct have already entered the mind of the public. Filipino voters know that these shocking irregularities affected the vote count for vice president.

While the first day’s recount covered only the precincts in one Camarines Sur municipality, the same irregularities were also discovered in the ballots of the other municipalities.

If you multiply the implications with all the municipalities in Camarines Sur, it does not take much cogitation for one to suspect that there may have been a province-wide operation in Camarines Sur designed to produce a fraudulent tabulation of votes in the vice-presidential election.

Then when we consider how the 2016 election was conducted in so many other places, it is logical to suspect that the Aquino administration committed many more dastardly things in other provinces to work out its will in the election.

Viewed in this context, the PET order really looks like squeezing the toothpaste back in the tube. It cannot be done. The public will not be satisfied. Voters will continue to ask questions.

Gagging the camps of Marcos and Robredo will accomplish exactly nothing. The only people I can imagine who will be happy are those who are tortured no end by the constant yapping of Robredo counsel Romulo Makalintal and Marcos counsel Vic Rodriguez. They talk no end without any provocation and with little sense.

A Sisyphean project
Will the VP vote recount become a Sisyphean (endless and futile) project?

No. I believe the recount must go on until it is fully finished and a corrected tabulation of votes is produced. The recount must move on to the other provinces under protest.

But a few things ought to change.

I believe PET through a spokesman should produce a regular update on the ongoing recount and if possible a tabulation of votes in Camarines Sur.

PET should also conduct a press briefing on the recount whenever it is appropriate. It should provide the public an idea of where the process is headed and how it is going to do the job.

It must explain what the reason was for the resignation of head revisors at the very beginning of the recount.

It must tell us what the wet ballots mean. Are they really normal occurrence as foolishly claimed by Makalintal?

The public must not be left hanging on the many issues that are arising from the recount. The question of who won in the vice- presidential race is really important to the public and the nation.

Sooner or later, the reality of election fraud in Camarines Sur will probably come out in the open. The tough and discomfiting questions will come. Who ordered the fraud, and to whose profit?